How To Make Oil Paints Dry Faster & Best Additives To Use

An impressionist oil painting of a city

Oil painting is an exciting and fun medium to work with, but it can be frustrating when your paintings take a long time to dry. This article will talk about how to dry oil paints faster and the best additives that speed up the drying process. We will also include some helpful tricks for speeding up the process.

To dry your oil paint faster, don't forget to prime your canvas because it helps your canvas absorb and improve oil paints' binding properties. Underpaint with acrylics and be mindful of the oil colors you use, especially when mixing them. Use the right medium and dry your painting in optimal condition.

Tips to Dry Your Oil Paintings Faster

An artist using the image on his mobile phone as a reference

You need to understand that oil paintings don't dry as water-based paints like acrylic and gouache do. Instead, the oil hardens from a combination of oxidation and evaporation of the solvents.

Prime your canvas.

Prime the canvas with acrylic gesso or matte medium, so the oil paint binds well with the canvas, leaving a smooth finish. Oil paints sink into unprimed canvas, so the finish is patchy and uneven. To apply the acrylic gesso, wet the canvas with a sponge dipped in water. Though gesso is white, you can add a few drops of acrylic paint so that you can skip underpainting.

Add a small amount of water to the gesso in a 1:5 water to gesso ratio. Diluting the gesso allows it to seep through the fibers of the canvas for better coverage. Spread the gesso with a 2-inch paintbrush in horizontal strokes. Let the gesso dry until it feels warm to the touch, preferably overnight.

You may sand the first layer lightly, then add a second layer in vertical strokes. If you want to add another layer, sand again, then apply in horizontal strokes. However, skip the sanding and apply the gesso in uneven strokes if you're going to add texture.

Other artists recommend priming with alkyd medium or liquin as they help the oil paint dry faster than gesso-primed surfaces. Another recommendation is to use lead-primed linen canvas over a universal-primed canvas. However, because of safety issues and price, we recommend it for advanced and professional artists.

Underpaint with acrylics.

As mentioned earlier, you may use acrylic paints to paint underneath an oil painting. Two reasons stand out why you should underpaint with acrylic paint: they have a faster drying time and are less costly than oil paints.

It also offers better coverage as it is very opaque, setting a dramatic background to your oil paintings. However, if you want to stay with oils for underpainting, use fast-drying, high-coverage Winsor and Newton Foundational White or Grumbacher MG Underpainting White. They dry in less than 6 hours so that you can start with your oil paintings right away.

Understand your oil paint's chemistry.

Oil paints on a wooden palette

Different pigments dry at different rates. For example, oil paints using earth pigments dry quickly, while those with cadmium dry the longest. Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber, Raw Umber, Prussian Blue, and Cobalt Blue dries in 2 days or less. Other colors that dry faster include Permanent Mauve, Cobalt Yellow, Genuine Aureolin, Manganese colors (violet, blue, black).

Those that contain lead (Lead White, Cremnitz White, and Flake White) also dries fast. Medium-drying paints are phthalocyanines (Windsor greens and blues), Cobalt violets and greens, Ultramarine blue, Mars colors, Sap green, all blacks (lamp, carbon, charcoal, and ivory), Burnt Sienna, and ochres. Oil paints with cadmium also belong to this group, drying in 4-5 days.

Oil paints with quinacridones (yellow, orange, red, green, etc.), Titanium White, Zinc White, Alizarin Crimson, and Van Dyke Brown are slow-drying. Windsor yellows, Windsor orange, and vermilion may take as long as more than 5 days to a week to dry. A thicker layer of these paints may even take a month!

The drying time is one of the reasons why artists recommend using earth colors like Burnt Umber, etc., for underpainting because they dry faster. Should you decide on warm colors for underpainting, use Chrome Yellow, Naples Yellow, Cobalt Yellow, and Chrome Red.

Also, when mixing colors, use faster-drying paints to balance the slow-drying oils. Observe each brand you use since different brands have different drying times. Also, stay clear from oil paints that have safflower oil because it does not cure at all.

Use the right medium.

Although you can use oil mediums like linseed oil and walnut oil to make your oil paint thinner and buttery to apply, they have disadvantages that you want to eliminate as much as possible. Linseed oil and walnut oil has a yellowish color which affects the tint of lighter colors and whites. They also slow the drying process of your oil paintings. 

Aside from its effect on the colors, linseed oil may also cause discoloration of your painting and cracking of the canvas - two undesirable things on your oil paintings, especially if you're a professional.

Instead, we recommend using drying mediums like Liquin Original or Galkyd. These alkyd mediums increase oil paints' binding property and speed up drying time without the yellowing and the subsequent cracking of your canvas. Your oil painting feels dry to touch in 1-6 days, depending on the thickness of the paint, compared to weeks when using oil mediums. 

Once finished, the oil painting is dry enough to apply temporary varnish in a month or two, compared to 6 months of traditional oil paintings. However, you cannot apply alkyd mediums for the final varnish. Check out our article on Damar varnishes to use on your oil paintings and which one to use for a temporary and final varnish.

Apply in thin layers

A thick layer of oil paints

Apply thin layers to speed up the drying process, following the "fat over lean" technique. You use more mineral spirits or solvents to the lower layers and gradually reduce them as you move to the subsequent layers. 

Thinner layers dry faster than thick paint, so it takes a shorter time to dry so you can add more layers completely. Read more on these tips in our article on best oil painting techniques.

Dry the oil painting in the optimal condition

Temperature is one of the top factors affecting the drying time of your oil paintings. If you paint during winter or cool days, expect your oil paintings to dry longer than during the warm spring and summer days.

Other factors that affect drying are pressure and humidity. Low pressure and humidity combined with higher temperature increase the solvent's evaporation process, hastening the drying process. A warm room hastens the chemical reaction. Dry your oil painting in a room with natural light and good air circulation for faster evaporation of harmful fumes.

Paint on wood

A surreal oil painting on wood - Image by Kseniia Boko

A surreal oil painting on wood - Image by Kseniia Boko

One of the best things about painting on wood is how much it absorbs the paint. The colors tend to dry faster and look thinner and more intense when painted on wood. As with canvas, you also need to prime your wood panels with gesso to prevent the wood from warping over time.

Sand the wood with fine-grit sandpaper. Wipe off the dust and apply gesso. Let the gesso dry. Repeat the process three times until you get a nice, smooth surface on your wood panel. Paint as you would with canvas, then let it dry and cure before adding fixatives.

Drying Oil Paint FAQ

Does the sun help dry oil paint faster?

Yes, you can expose your oil paintings to direct sunlight for a few hours. If you worry about discoloration and lightfastness, the sun won't damage the paint layers. Even the great artist Peter Paul Rubens practices this technique to dry his oil paint faster.

However, since the outdoors is dusty and some debris may cling to your painting and damage it, we recommend using this technique with caution. Professionals certainly don't recommend it.

Instead, one artist recommends using a dark box, large enough, so you have enough space around your painting. This box will ensure your artwork is in a warm environment but away from dust, debris, and pets.

Can I dry oil paint with a hairdryer?

You may be surprised to learn that even with oils, a little heat will significantly speed up and get your fairly thin layer of paint dry so you can add more layers. However, artists differ in their take on this hack.

Advanced artists swear by using a hairdryer to hasten the drying time. Move the hairdryer around the back to speed up the oxidation process to prevent dust from getting into the painting.

Does a heat gun work on oil paint?

Heat guns emit more heat than hairdryers. You can still use a heat gun to dry your oil paintings. However, be sure to move it around and hold it farther than the hairdryer as the extreme heat may damage the painting.

Before the oil painting, you want to dry, hold your other hand to test how warm your painting gets with the heat gun. The heat from the gun should only be warm, not hot.

How do I know if my oil painting is dry?

A quick and easy way to test if your oil painting has dried is to run your fingernail gently across a tiny section of it without pressing too hard so as not to break onto the canvas beneath. The paint is dry when you get a powdery or dusty particle on your finger. If it comes out like a thread, then it is not dry enough.

Why does white oil paint take so long to dry?

We don't have an answer to that, except the fact that Titanium White, indeed, takes a long time to dry. The trick to hasten the drying process is using the right medium. Artists recommend using Walnut Oil with Alkyd, Liquin Original, or Galkyd. Do not use Walnut Oil alone since it prolongs an already long drying process.

Even so, painters choose Titanium White as it is the most opaque of the whites and gives full coverage. We recommend you to use Grumbacher Pre-tested Titanium White as the fastest drying of the Titanium Whites.

Conclusion

You have to remember that the lengthy drying process of oil paints helps you perfect your art. It also gives you a much-deserved break without freaking about your paints drying out. However, when you're in a pinch, like when your art teacher is urging you about the deadline or when a  client wants his painting now, having the hacks on how to dry oil paint faster is a big help. 

We hope you now have an idea of how to make oil paints dry faster. Which hack are you using now? Leave us a comment to let us know.

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